"What's wrong Princess?" Oren asked. He and Aurelia had been sitting in silence for quite some time.
She tilted her head toward him, broken suddenly from the string of her own thoughts, "nothing," she breathed listlessly.
"Nothing, ay?" He was laying on the grass, supporting himself on one raised elbow, studying her, "Doesn't look like nothing."
Aurelia couldn't get the image of him—the action she saw last night in the barn—out of her mind. Even now as Oren spoke to her she looked for signs of his ecstasy. She wondered who this other fixture of Oren's personality was. She wanted to see and hear it again, she—
"Aury," he broke into her thoughts again, "what's wrong?"
"I'm sorry," she stammered, "I was just…thinking…"
He didn't let it go. "Thinking about what?"
Aurelia stalled, lost for an explanation to give him. She couldn't tell him what she had seen. Above all he would be humiliated, and embarrassed, and then she couldn't stand the thought of that. She didn't want things to change between them. "About—" her eyes darted around her, looking for an escape, "—the woman I saw yesterday before you found."
"Oh," he snorted, bemused, "that."
She lowered her eyes, scolding him sheepishly, "don't say it like that."
Oren sighed, dropping his elbow and rolling onto his back. Both hands interlocking back behind his head. "I'm sorry." He didn't say it like an apology, but more offhandedly, like he might say hello, or goodbye. "You just seem really sad."
He turned his face toward her again, his eyes squinting up at her from the brightness of the sun. Oren tried to read her expression, but his gaze only made her feel uncomfortable.
"Oren," she began, hesitantly, "what if she is real?" He raised his eyebrows at her and her stomach fluttered. "I mean," she went on, "what if she is a princess under a curse?"
"Are you listening to yourself?"
"She called me by name," she went on, ignoring him, "like she knew me. Maybe she was a relative of my father's… a sister… a cousin, someone in his ancestry… he had to have family."
"What has Bryn told you about his family?"
"Not much, which is odd, usually she goes on and on."
"She lives in her head Aury," he said gently, "she's more comfortable that way."
"I know she didn't have any siblings, but father," she bit her lip, "I'm not sure… I know his mother and his grandmother are buried in the Mausoleum… What else did the villagers say about the legend?"
"They said a beautiful Princess," he began, "living in a castle on this mountain, had a curse put on her by an evil witch. The curse states that the Princess has to sleep for a hundred years until a Prince can defeat the witch, henceforth breaking the curse. They also said something about the castle literally crumbling around the sleeping Princess, and that she could be recognized by her flowing hair. Supposedly, they said, when it was let down it reached behind her twelve feet…"
"Here's what I think," she concluded satisfactorily, "the hundred years must mean something, so perhaps…" she bit her lip again. "it must mean," she said more sure of herself now, "that a hundred years have passed, or at least, they are about to pass. She must be my grandmother, or my great-grandmother, or, perhaps a sister of one of them."
"Did the woman you saw look like you?" Oren asked.
"She did actually. Well, not really, but in a way yes."
"Well that's reassuring."
Aurleia snorted, "and the castle," she continued, "obviously that's this castle, it's been in a state of disrepair since the plague came here. But the Prince," she went on, "I'm stumped there…"
"Well that's simple," he told her, his eyes locking with hers, "it means a Prince is coming to take you away from me."
"It's not me," Aurelia insisted, "I told you that."
Oren didn't look convinced.
"What if somewhere along the line the legend got jumbled?" she wondered, "what if 'Prince' is actually meant to be 'Princess'?"
He chuckled at the way her mind worked.
"I mean it," she chided, "they could have gotten it wrong. And why can't I save her? I'm brave enough."
"This is silly," he sighed again, "I'm going to go back." He stood, reaching his arm out for her take, and when she took it he hoisted her up to her feet as well.
"Oren," she stopped him, her gaze starry-eyed, "the Mausoleum…"
"What do you mean: 'the Mausoleum'?" He asked her, imitating her tone.
"Think about it," she pressed, "if you needed to hide a Princess who was cursed to sleep for a hundred years where could you safely put her?"
"The Mausoleum," he nodded, but she could tell form his expression that that was the last place he wanted to go.
It was a short walk from the meadow to the old castle gardens. Long ago the manicured landscape must have looked beautiful, but now, long neglected, and in a state of disrepair it looked forlorn, and chaotic. The Mausoleum was covered in shrubbery and tall weedy grass that Oren had to break aside for them get in.
When they were children Oren and Aurelia had explored the crypt, although neither had come near it in years. It never seemed frightening to Aurelia though, and she avoided it more for Oren's sake, because she knew it made him nervous.
"Well, here we are," he said putting his hands in his trouser pockets, "in the Mausoleum…"
Aurelia looked at the names chiseled on the marble nameplates: Freja the first one read, her father's mother. The second one said: Anielka, her grandmother, and from the names went on.
At the far corner there was an opening in the wall without a name stone. She looked into its inky depths and wondered if this particular space was meant for her herself. Had her father lived long enough for her to become Queen after him, would she too meet her fate in this hallowed tomb. There was one nameplate that was more worn than the others. Aurelia could see indents and cut marks across the otherwise smooth surface of the stone. She put her hand on it, feeling the wrinkled and dimpled grooves.
"Why is it like that?" Oren asked her.
"Mother said this one was supposed to be hers, but she didn't like the idea of her name on a death plate yet, so after father died she broke away the writing. She told me that when she does die, I'm supposed to turn the stone over and rewrite it."
Oren didn't say anything to Aurelia but he thought that was odd.
They both studied the names again. Aurelia moved her open palms against the smoothness, waiting for the woman to appear to Aurelia again to tell her which tomb she would be in.
Was it Freja who had appeared to her? Her mother had told her once that she thought her father's mother was a witch, but she didn't think it meant the same thing.
Anielka? She wondered. Aurelia knew she was the mother of Freja but that was all.
Oren was starting to grow visibly uncomfortable. He stood nearest to the door, pacing back and forth, at odds with his desire to help Aurelia, and his need to get out of the tiny room.
"I don't know," Aurelia admitted.
"Honestly," he said, "if she is in here, then I think it would be that one." He pointed to the stone where the writing had been removed.
"Why?" She asked, following his raised finger to the tomb that was to be her mother's.
"Well," he stammered; a sheen of sweat cut across his forehead. "It's not being used, and… I don't know I just think it's that one."
"Will you help me move the stone?"
After a few careful minutes of pulling and pushing at the stone it finally broke free from the indent in the wall. Oren and Aurelia moved in together to look, their hands simultaneously reaching out and clasping the others open palm.
Aurelia had expected a beautiful sleeping woman locked in a strange sleeping curse, but what she and Oren saw was a dusty collection of bones, laid out, somewhat evenly on a stone slab. Some of the bones were still wet with tissue, but overall they were dry and brittle. A gold crown was lopsided near the skull, and small patches of fabric –what had once been a dress, Aurelia assumed –could also be seen.
"I'm going to be sick," Oren groaned. He let go of her hand, balling his fist over his mouth and hurried out of the entryway into the hot air of the afternoon.
"I'm sorry," Aurelia ran after him, "this was a bad idea."
"No," he confessed, "it's just…"
He turned away from her, retching into one of the overgrown bushes.
She reached out to comfort him, but he pushed her away. His shirt was damp with cold sweat. Now that they were back out in the light she could see that his shirt was drenched.
"Oren?" She was scared.
"I'm alright," Oren was still bent down. His hands curled against his knees for support.
"Let's go back," she begged, "let's forget about all of this. It was a really bad idea, I'm so sorry."
"Alright," he breathed. His voice was hoarse from gagging.
"Here," Aurelia reached out to him, and was surprised that he took her arm, but content when he leaned his weight against her while they made their way slowly back to the castle.